Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Parents' Week

Did you know it was Parent's Week this week? No, me neither. Do you know what Parents' Week is all about? Well you can find out more on the Family and Parenting Institute website. And if you didn't even know that such a thing existed, join the club. At least you didn't find out about it for the first time while listening to your name being trailed on the way to the BBC Lincolnshire studios yesterday morning. So that's why they've invited me onto Melvyn Prior's Morning Show! And I thought it was all to do with blogging.

Well, it was. A bit. But the invitation had clearly come as a result of it being National Parent's Week too. But as I didn't know, I wasn't really all that well prepared. So here's how the interview might have gone if I'd done some homework.

Is there anywhere better for a stay-at-home dad to live than in south Lincolnshire?

Er, yes. Actually, lots of places. But especially Sweden. And Norway. Because, if you can stand the long nights and the cold winters, you get to share with your child's mother a rather generous parental leave entitlement. In fact, in Sweden men are entitled to take more paternity leave than mothers if that's the way a family chooses to split it and it's as natural to see men pushing the baby buggies as they women.

What about the economic downturn? Has that made a difference?

Well, no doubt there are some dads for whom the recession means they get to spend a bit more time with their children, but woman are suffering more than men as a result of the global financial downturn according to Michelle Bachelet (former Chilean president and now UN Under-Secretary for Women). She's been studying the impact of the recession on women's rights in particular, and is afraid that many of the hard-won freedoms could be quietly curtailed as industry feels the pinch. Which is probably enough to ensure mums in the UK will never get the chance to take up to four years maternity leave, as happens in the Czech Republic.

So what next for you? Is it 'back to work' when Charlie goes to school?

Well it's already 'back-to-work' (albeit briefly) now that Charlie's started nursery. But with a sibling due in December, we've got some difficult decisions ahead. And that's the one thing I resent: the fact that it's so damned difficult to do right both by your kids and your career. No-one's asking for handouts or for preferential treatment. Just a situation where both parents can take time out with their children and not lose out in terms of a career and pension.

But of course, it'll soon be getting even harder. Once universal Child Benefit is scrapped there'll be even less of what little help some parents have to rely on. Ironically, some couples with twice the income will still qualify for Child Benefit. Which seems rather odd until you step back and consider why mums don't get to take more time off with their kids, or why UK dads still get a miserly five weeks paternity leave if they're lucky. Because the sooner we all go back to work, the sooner we're all paying tax again. And if we end up paying people to look after our children too, they'll be paying tax on what they're getting too. Tax on pay that's already been taxed. Tax times two.

You've got to be in it, to win it. Government, that is. Or Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs.

And you thought they were trying to be helpful when they gave you all those nursery vouchers.

If you want to hear what I actually said, you can do so on BBC iPlayer. You'll need to scroll forward to about 1 hour 30 to hear the two of us. Charlie was far more relaxed and at home in the studio than I was, offering his raisins to the presenter and having his picture taken in the 'hot seat'.

'That was nice daddy,' he told me as we were leaving the studio. 'Can we do it again?'

'Certainly Charlie,' I replied. 'How are you fixed Friday, about one p.m., the Peter Levy show?'

Sometimes I feel like I'm his agent. But if the Taxman's reading, Charlie doesn't pay me anything!
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